What is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

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Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program that helps replace lost income for disabled workers who can no longer work.

You must pass the disability determination process from Social Security to qualify for the program. You must also have worked and paid enough in Social Security taxes to qualify.

By what other names is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) known?

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You may hear Social Security Disability Insurance referred to as SSDI, DI, or Title II (Title II of the Social Security Act). Some may use more general terms like SSA benefits, Social Security disability benefits, or Social Security benefits, which can cause confusion with other Social Security programs.

How do I apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

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There are 3 ways to apply for SSDI:
  • You can apply online
  • You can call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) and apply by telephone, or
  • You can apply at your local Social Security office.

What sort of information will I have to give Social Security when I apply for SSDI?

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You may need to give all of the following when you apply for SSDI:
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of all doctors, hospitals and clinics that have given you with medical treatment. You will also need to give dates of treatment
  • Names of any medications you are taking
  • Copies of any medical records you have
  • Your Social Security Number and the Social Security Numbers for your spouse and any children you have who are minors
  • A certified copy of your birth certificate
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship legal residency, if you were born in another country
  • A certified copy of your military discharge papers (Form DD 214), if you were in the military
  • Your most recent W-2 Form, or if you’re self-employed, your most recent federal tax return
  • Information on any workers’ compensation you get
  • A summary of all jobs you have worked for the past 15 years (name of jobs and dates)

Who is eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

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To qualify for SSDI, Social Security must decide that you are disabled. You also need to have worked a certain amount of time and have contributed enough in Social Security taxes to qualify.

The amount of time it takes Social Security to decide if you have a disability can vary widely from applicant to applicant. In some cases, it may only take a month or 2. The average is around 6 months and in some cases it takes a year or longer.

Social Security uses a series of tests to decide if you are eligible. As a general rule, if you've accumulated enough work credits and your disabling condition is severe enough to keep you from engaging in any Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), you'll qualify for SSDI benefits.

What is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?

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Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) is one of the measures that Social Security uses to figure out whether or not you’re disabled and therefore eligible for Social Security benefits.

If your countable monthly income is greater than the SGA level ($1,220 per month in 2019, $2,040 if you’re blind), you will not be considered disabled.

Note: You may be able to reduce your countable monthly income if you get a wage subsidy or have Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs).

If you’re self-employed, Social Security may not consider your income alone to figure out whether or not you’ve reached the SGA limit. Instead, they may use 3 different tests that examine a variety of factors (for example, hours worked, skills needed, management time, and responsibilities) to figure out whether or not you’ve reached SGA.

How do I know if my disability qualifies me for SSDI?

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Your disabling condition must be on Social Security’s List of Impairments for you to qualify. If your disability is not on the list, Social Security has to decide that your condition is as severe as a condition that is on the list for you to qualify.

What if I think I may be disabled for less than one year?

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Consider State Disability Insurance (SDI) or other private disability insurance. For SSDI, your disability must cause you to be unable to engage in any Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) for a continuous period of at least 12 months.

Is there any health coverage that comes with SSDI?

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Yes. If you’re on SSDI benefits, you will automatically be eligible for Medicare after you’ve been eligible to get SSDI cash benefits for 24 months. You will continue to be eligible for Medicare as long as you’re getting SSDI cash benefits, and for up to 93 months (7 years, 9 months) after your SSDI Trial Work Period ends.

How is my SSDI benefit calculated?

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Your SSDI benefits amount is based on your average earnings from work over your lifetime. Small changes will be made to your benefits amount each year to account for changes in the cost of living.

Your SSDI benefits amount may be reduced if you’re getting Workers' Compensation payments or income from other sources.

Will the money I have in the bank or my other resources affect my eligibility for SSDI?

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No. SSDI does not have any resource limit. You can have unlimited resources and still qualify for SSDI benefits.

What is the difference between the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program?

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It’s easy to mix up Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). They’re both Social Security programs, and they both use the same rules to figure out whether or not you’re disabled.

SSI, however, is a needs-based program. Your income and resources must be below certain levels to qualify. SSDI is not based on need. You can have an unlimited number of resources and still qualify for SSDI benefits.

What is a Trial Work Period (TWP)?

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Social Security wants to encourage Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries to return to work if they are able to. To help facilitate this, they’ve designed program rules and work incentives to make it easier for people to do just this. One of these is the Trial Work Period (TWP).

Social Security gives everyone on SSDI benefits a 9-month TWP to test the waters and see if they’re able to re-enter (or more fully enter) the workforce. During your TWP, you can work and earn any level of income while still keeping full SSDI benefits.

Your TWP is made up of 9 Trial Work months within a 5-year window. A Trial Work month is any month within your TWP during which your gross earnings (earnings before taxes are deducted) are greater than $880. If you earn more than $880 in a month, you’ve used up one Trial Work month. If you earn less than $880, you haven’t. Either way, you continue to get full SSDI benefits.

What is the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)?

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Once you’ve used up your Trial Work Period (TWP), a 3-year Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) begins.

During your EPE, you will continue to get monthly SSDI benefits as long as your countable monthly earnings don’t exceed the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level ($1,220 per month in 2019; $2,040 if you’re blind). Your SSDI benefits amount will be zero in any month that you earn above the SGA limit.

Once your countable monthly earnings reach the SGA limit, a 3-month Grace Period begins. During that time, you will continue getting SSDI cash benefits regardless of your wages. After your Grace Period ends, however, your SSDI cash benefits will be stopped for any month your countable earnings are over SGA.

What is Expedited Reinstatement?

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Expedited Reinstatement allows former SSDI beneficiaries who have gone back to work and used up their Trial Work Period and Extended Period of Eligibility to get up to 6 months of temporary SSDI cash benefits if their income drops below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level.

During those 6 months, Social Security will conduct a medical review to figure out if the beneficiary still meets Social Security's disability requirements. If they do, they’ll be placed back on benefits without having to reapply for SSDI. If they don't, their SSDI benefits will stop.

To be eligible for Expedited Reinstatement, you must request it within 5 years of the end of the Extended Period of Eligibility.

Do I need to let Social Security know if I go back to work?

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Yes. If you go back to work or if your income changes for any other reason, be sure to report your change in earnings to Social Security right away. You can call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) or visit your local office.

If you don’t report changes in your income, you’re risk getting an overpayment. If Social Security overpays you, you will likely be held responsible for paying that money back.

If you’re on Medi-Cal or any other public health care program, be sure to report changes in your income to your local county social services agency.

How often do I need to report my income to Social Security?

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If you're working, you should mail copies of your pay stubs to Social Security, or drop them off at your local Social Security office, every month.

If you’re self-employed, you only need to report your income to Social Security once per year (after you complete your federal income tax return). If you’re self-employed and on Medi-Cal or another public benefits program, check with your local county social services agency to find out how often you need to report your income to them.

If Social Security denies my application for SSDI benefits, can I appeal the decision?

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Yes. If your application is denied (which is not unusual), you can appeal the decision. More than half of all appealed denials are reversed.

The appeals process may take several months. If your application is denied for medical reasons and you want to appeal it, you need to submit an Appeal Request and Appeal Disability Report. The report will ask you for updated information about your medical condition and any treatment, tests, or doctor visits you've had since Social Security made their decision.

If your application is denied based on nonmedical reasons, you should contact your local Social Security office to request a review. You can also call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) to request a review.

If you would like help with your appeal, you can contact the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) at 1-800-431-2804. NOSSCR is an association of attorneys and paralegals who represent people who think they’ve been unfairly denied Social Security benefits.

What are Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB) benefits?

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Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB) benefits are similar to SSDI. Adults who have a disability that began before they turned 22 can receive CDB benefits based upon the taxes their parents paid into the Social Security system. Unlike SSDI, you do not need to have worked to qualify for a CDB benefit.

What other benefit programs are available to me and how will they work with the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program?

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Many additional benefits programs may be available to you depending on your work history and what benefits an employer has provided. They may include California State Disability Insurance (SDI) program and privately sponsored short- and long-term disability programs. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may be available if your SSDI payments and other benefits do not exceed SSI's income limit and you meet the resource limit. You may also be eligible for Medicare (after the waiting period) or Medi-Cal.

Can I qualify for the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program while I am eligible for State Disability Insurance (SDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

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Yes. State Disability Insurance (SDI) may be available if you have paid into the program. Your Social Security disability benefits may be reduced when receiving other public benefits simultaneously. The combined amount of Social Security benefits, State Disability Insurance, and other public disability, such as workers' compensation, cannot exceed 80% of what Social Security considers your average current earnings. For more information, see How Workers' Compensation And Other Disability Payments May Affect Your Benefits. You may consider consulting a Benefits Planner when accessing more than one public program.